Schools as “gift nurseries”

The following is a message from Jim Strickland, founder of ASCEND, on the Marysville ASCEND Mailing List. It is reposted here with permission from the author.

I know I’ve shared this with you before, but I was again moved by this quote from John Dewey’s Creative Democracy — The Task Before Us, written in 1939 on the occasion of Dewey’s 80th birthday:

The democratic faith in human equality is belief that every human being, independent of the quantity or range of his personal endowment, has the right to equal opportunity with every other person for development of whatever gifts he has.

With this in mind, I like to think of our schools as “gift nurseries” where the unique gifts and talents of every student are actively discovered, developed, and honored.  This is relatively easy when a student’s gifts lie in the areas of academics or sports, but it is more of a challenge when they don’t fit neatly into our standard categories of recognition.  What can we do to more effectively nurture this “right to equal opportunity” that Dewey talks about?

This brings me to two questions that I believe every school must continuously grapple with, and that means providing the time and conditions for this grappling to happen:

  1. Is what we are doing working?
  2. How can we tell?